The Pittsburgh Steelers announced yesterday that tight end Kevin Rader would be elevated for today’s game to the Active/Inactive List, a player who was on the practice squad for all of the 2019 season and most of the 2020 season, but who also spent a bit of time on the 53-man roster after Zach Gentry was injured.
An area native who graduated from Youngstown St., Rader made his NFL debut last week in the Steelers’ regular season finale against the Cleveland Browns, logging 24 snaps in total, split evenly between work on offense and on special teams, in a game that starting tight end Eric Ebron missed due to Covid-19 contact tracing.
He finished the game with one target for zero receptions—the pass defensed by Myles Garrett—and he recorded three tackles on special teams, making himself useful on the special teams unit, and that is certainly something that got the head coach’s attention.
“We had a practice squad tight end that we called up in Kevin Rader, and Kevin Rader was a part of three tackles on kickoff, so he added value to our cause and showed that he’s and offensive player that’s capable of making tackles in the special teams game, which is a unique trait”, said Mike Tomlin on his eponymous Show last night.
While the Steelers made the decision to elevate him from the practice squad, that does not guarantee that he will, in fact, dress. There was a game earlier this year, I believe, in which the Steelers elevated a player but ended up not actually dressing him.
The Steelers have not dressed more than two tight ends for a game at any point this season or last season, but they would be able to do it today if they chose to, and given Tomlin talking up Rader’s special teams contributions, it would make sense.
But one can’t help but wonder if it’s part of a head fake regarding the possibility of dressing and playing Joshua Dobbs, the third-string quarterback who was used in a sub-package last week, and which the Browns acknowledged that they would have to prepare for.
The threat of using Dobbs is much more potent if he’s actually dressed, and it would be complicated to dress both Dobbs as a third quarterback and Rader as a third tight end, so it would either end up being one or the other, or Dobbs dressing over Mason Rudolph.
My expectation is that the Steelers will probably dress Rader and use him on special teams, and Dobbs will not dress—or they will sit both Jayrone Elliott and Cassius Marsh, or possibly Henry Mondeaux, but he is also a special teamer.
It’s worth reminding that the NFL lifted restrictions on the number of times an individual player could be elevated from the practice squad during the 2020 postseason, so Rader’s elevation would not be ‘wasted’ in terms of being able to be used for another game in the event that they do decide not to dress him.